Jason Hobbs, of Hobbs and Friends of the OSR, linked me in to a grappling duel that he was going to run in an ongoing game he runs. You can see it here, from about the 5 minute mark to about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer. He used concepts from my book, Dungeon Grappling, to execute the duel.

Check it out. I’ll wait.

A few things about it that struck me, or that I really liked:

  • First, Jason looked at the rules ahead of time, trimmed them to his needs, and clarified the function with the other player in the duel
  • He made them his own: dividing the HP of each fighter into a few bins of a size that made sense to him. There seemed to also be a “no effect” zone up to a certain level, too
  • He eliminated modifiers to the damage roll: “just roll your Hit Die for control damage.”
  • He made the contest one-way: no way to counter-grapple. The player asked about it, and was informed not to worry.
  • It was fast, and especially in the duel, the “miss, miss, hit/damage, miss, hit/damage, etc” sequence was as fast as it should be, with no bizarre lookups.

That’s the point, really: everyone who plays any version of D&D knows the hit roll vs AC/damage roll paradigm. It’s basically in our blood. And with the relatively low number of HP in Old School games, using HP as Control Maximum is equally well understood.

The player was able to ask for things to do: “get in and take him down.” That was glossed over, but it could have been attempted as soon as the fight moved from “grabbed” to “grappled.” Make an attack roll, spend the CP to represent the effort of throwing him to the ground, and poof. He’s now prone (and presumably embarrassed) on the ground. Easier to hit, harder to hit you, and worse Dexterity-type saving throws.

I liked what I saw, and as the players and the GM get used to it, I can easily see adding some of the optional detail for more fun.

For what it’s worth: Dungeon Grappling is on sale until January 2, 2019!

The control point based rules in my various grappling supplements are good. But they can be adjusted to taste in various ways to increase the fun in grappling at your table.

TG: The History

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling evolved in the writing and testing, as all books do. Originally, DX penalties and ST penalties alternated with each increment in control points. First you’d lose a point in DX, then ST, then DX, then ST, etc. That was too complicated to track; the goal was “make each CP valuable” but this wasn’t the way.

Eventually, we decided that for two ST 10 foes (because you need to normalize DX penalties based on fraction of ST, blah blah) that every 2 CP was -1 DX and -1 ST. Because the more you’re grappled, the harder it is to apply your full ST effectively. The ST reductions were really important to the progression, and normalizing it (it took 4 CP to do -1 DX to a ST 20 creature) was also an important balancing act.

However . . . re-figuring ST on a point-by-point basis was cumbersome at best.

D&D and Dungeon Grappling

Making a super-simple application of the core control points principle for application in Swords and Wizardry, Peter Dell’Orto and I came up with the idea of control thresholds, based on ST. Each threshold had some impact on hit rolls, damage rolls, etc. But the advantage here was you only had to track breakpoints. This was lower book-keeping, each CP had value in your ability to spend them, and sped up play.

Applying this to D&D5e, the Pathfinder RPG, and fleshing it out and improving it for Swords and Wizardry was the point of Dungeon Grappling. I was able to make a two page “DG Quick Start” which appeared in Lost Hall of Tyr. So it was clear that at the core, simplifying a “Technical/Dungeon” grappling system for 5e (and therefore Dragon Heresy) was fun, fast, playable, and with the right approach, simply better than the existing stuff out there.

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

When I got the license to turn Lost Hall of Tyr into Hall of Judgment, I also got permission to put in the simplified grappling concepts as alternate rules. I’d learned a ton about speed of play since 2011/2012 when I wrote Technical Grappling, and re-applying all of those lessons in a simplified form for speed of play at the table was both gratifying and, ultimately, successful.

The playtesters tweaked out the system until in most cases it ran smoothly. As always, when normal ST folks fight other normal ST folks, things work out OK. For most characters, Wrestling and the like are backup skills, but for “fighty types,” they tend to be in the 14-16 range. Credible but not dominating. Solid skill levels, but basically you’re looking at front-line ST (14-17) and Wrestling at DX or DX+1. That”s 1d to about 1d+3 control points per successful attack. Against a non-fighter type, a successful hit will mostly be in the -2 to -4 to DX range, with excursions to -8 if you get a good roll vs a weaker character. Against an equal-ST foe, it will take two turns to get to “Greater than CM” level.

Even so, it’s not that hard to have that first successful grapple take you from Wrestling-14 or Wrestling-16 to anywhere from Wrestling-6 to Wrestling-12; the upper one isn’t bad. The lower is in “death spiral” territory, from one attack.

Part of the reason the penalties were set the way they were is that the adjustment of ST was nixed. No longer would one be recalculating ST (and thus damage, encumbrance, etc) on a turn-by-turn basis. In fact, even the concept of adjusting ST at all was dropped, so that the answer to “what’s my grappling damage” is always “whatever it says on your character sheet” and even if that doesn’t work out, you can always just say “it’s your thrust, +1 per die if you have Wrestling at DX+1.”

If you have Wrestling or Judo at DX+4 or better, well, you really care about grappling and will have looked it up and written it down in advance. That’s “primary skill” level, not “close-combat backup.”

So the basic thought was -1 DX per Control Point, or ‘against typical DX, which is often in the 12-16 range, once you pass your control maximum you’re immobilized.’ So the upper bound was set at -16, which would immobilize just about anyone, even some of the characters I’ve seen played with weapon skills well above 20. Halving the penalties at each lower increment seemed good, it had a -4 (the usual GURPSy grappling penalty) in the realm of 4-8 control points (a fairly typical successful grappling attack), and it played OK in the tests.

That you maxed out at “you can’t apply more CP than your Control Maximum” helped a bit, but it was usually possible to get up to that point in a turn or two, and, well: death spiral. The point of grappling is a bit of back-and-forth struggle. And I hate “I win!” buttons. In many of the tests, “I win!” wasn’t present. But it didn’t take much to tip that scale.

Don’t Get Grappled?

Some of the things that we got rid of, like adjusting ST penalties, were for bookkeeping reduction. One of the things we nixed, which is penalties or bonuses to control points or effects due to size modifier differences, was a direct nod to the epic nature of the source material. Human-sized, mighty-thewed heroes could wrestle and contend with ogres, cyclops (cyclopses? Cyclopes!), and other giant creatures because they were epic, mighty-thewed heroes.

Having King Kong grapple you and poof you’re helpless is realistic. It’s believable. And it’s boring. It’s especially boring if the only response to fighting moderately strong creatures (or gaggles of small ones) is “don’t get grappled.”

So while the results on the as-published table aren’t wrong, there are many cases where fun can be increased by tuning things a bit.

Suggested Tweaks

If the existing rules don’t work for you, try the following:

  • Your Control Maximum remains unchanged, and equal to Lifting ST
  • Alter the Control Point Effects table as follows
Control Points DX Penalty
up to 1/10 Lifting ST
 Up to 0.5 x Lifting ST -2
>0.5xLift ST to 1.0xLift ST -4
>1.0xLift ST to 1.5x Lift ST -6
>1.5xLift ST to 2.0xLift ST -8
Greater than 2xLifting ST -12
  • You cannot apply more CP than your Control Maximum unless you All-Out Attack, which doubles your allowed Control Maximum

If you choose to not All-Out Attack, your CM drops and your applied control instantly drops to your CM if it’s greater, much like if you release a grapple to parry your grapple is instantly lost or diminished.


  • The penalties are gentler and extend to higher applied control totals. This will allow more back-and-forth between grapplers
  • Normal folks with 1d to 1d+3 control points per hit (1-9 CP, or 4-6 CP per attack on the average) will take four to six turns, or four to six seconds, of unopposed grappling to bring someone to -12 penalty, which will take most non-experts to either “can’t roll” or “you can only succeed in an attack if you crit or AoA)
  • King Kong or a Large Dragon at ST 50 will still be hitting you with 5d+2 control damage; that’s 19-20 points, which is enough to put most folks in the -6 to -8 penalty range in one shot; that’s believable
  • Maintaining dominating control of more than your Lifting ST requires All-Out Attacking; you’re certainly not doing anything else but “controlling the other guy.” This seems a worthy trade off for totally immobilizing someone of basically equal to your ST
  • The lower penalty rates will give an opportunity to counter-grapple. That’s not always present in these contests, and it should be.

More Tweaks

  • The -6 penalty line can simply be deleted. More than your Lifting ST in applied control points, and you’re at -8 to DX. Then for each additional multiple of your Lifting ST, take an additional -4.
  • You could halve the penalties, but at the -2, -6, and -12 levels (which would be halved to -1, -3, and -6), apply a -1, -2, or -3 per die penalty to control point damage on a successful attack. That would make a lot more ebb and flow in control points, as experts will be removing some control much of the time, and truly immobilizing someone is a constant struggle. This puts fiddle back, and “no, you’re just screwed” is a legit part of some grappling holds
  • Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is designed to work without many of the more complex grappling options from GURPS Martial Arts. Instead of All-Out Attack, things like Arm Lock might be required to increase control beyond the CM, so locking a joint opens up truly large penalties.
  • Applying pain, from Martial Arts, would be another way to apply large penalties without increasing CM, so that by moving up to your Control Maximum and then applying a Pain affliction to the foe, that would compound the effects without requiring All-Out Attack. Since Arm Lock and the like default to flat grappling skills anyway, “make a successful attack to apply pain” would not even be a deviation from the rules – you just can’t buy it up with the (non-existent in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG) Technique rules.

Parting Shot

Right now, the emergent behavior from the rules as written tend to be “who grapples first grapples best,” “don’t get grappled by big, strong foes,” and “bring friends,” since you might need their help to escape from grapples. Also, grappling is as fast and decisive as getting brained by a swung sword.

You’re just as “Save or Spectate” if a ST 21 guy with a two-handed sword and weapon master hits you: Swing damage for that is 4d-1, +3 for the sword and +8 for having your primary weapon at DX+2 or more. That’s 4d+10, or 14-34 points of cutting damage. That’s a one-hit kill on a human. Strong guys with grappling or strong guys with weapons are very dangerous, period. You can’t armor yourself much vs grappling, but it’s thrust-based, not swing based. Balances out.

None of these things are wrong or bad.

However, if you want grappling to be decisive but still allow for some good back-and-forth, try some or all of the tweaks above . . . and let me know how they go.

I got a sometimes-rare opportunity last night – I got to use the rules I’ve written in the core of their design intent. In this case, it was the simplified and upgraded rules for grappling that appear in my recent Hall of Judgment book: Fantastic Dungeon Grappling.

These took the method of GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, and seasoned them with lessons learned from DnD5e and Dragon Heresy. Unlike TG, which take 50 pages to do what they set out to do, Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (FDG) does it in just shy of four pages of text. That includes art.

Design Intent

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is designed to be three things, and where that intent is the same as the original Technical Grappling, to improve them over the original.

  1. It’s designed to be more easily understood and better organized
  2. It’s designed to be fast and loose and somewhat abstract at the table
  3. It’s designed to enable effective grappling in cinematic play, because the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is a cinematic, “this goes to 11” game and genre

I’m not going to belabor the point: mission accomplished here, both for the player and GM. Continue reading “Fantastic Dungeon Grappling: A self-review”

So, one frequently looks back at older projects with more-experienced eyes and says: “Ugh. I could do that better now.”

My very first book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling is no different. It’s the original basis for Dungeon Grappling, and that of course was the basis for my adventure Lost Hall of Tyr.

One if the things that’s built into the book is a way to figure out what happens to folks if you grapple them by different body parts. If you grab an arm and a leg, well, you should be impeded. But maybe not as much as equally-strong grapples on the head and torso. In any case, the main book has an admittedly complicated method of resolving these secondary effects, called “referred control.”

It’s a good idea . . . in theory. At the game table, it’s fiddle. Frankly, it’d be awesome with an app or spreadsheet. The prevalence of cell phones and PDAs would make that easy, actually.

But games mostly shouldn’t require an app. You should be able to roll-and-shout if you wanna.

Peter Dell’Orto and I worked out a simpler system a while ago, that gets very nearly to the same place as the main TG book, and is even easier. We’ve since done more work on it, but also moved on to other projects and focuses. The conversation on the GURPS Forums made me want to pull out my hair in a “what the heck was I thinking?” way, so I figured I’d offer up a small glimpse as to a simplification possible that makes for faster play.

Effects of Control Points

To determine the total control inflicted on an opponent, sum the CP for any locations being grappled, and apply the following:

  • All regions actively grappled are penalized based on the total CP to the entire creature. The whole-body skill penalty is also based on this same figure.
  • Every other body part is treated as grappled for 1/2 the total CP; practically this means halve all penalties, dropping fractions.

As always, the whole-body DX penalty is halved for parries and blocks, and quartered for dodge. In most cases, the whole-body penalty (and thus total CP) is all you need; only resort to referred control and figuring the half-CP penalties if something odd comes up, like one character trying to pry a sword out of the off hand of a monster while a fellow Barbarian is grappling that monster to keep it immobile.

Here’s an example that highlights a few changes, including a tweak that bases all grapples on one hand, since the most likely situation for a dungeon delver puts a weapon in the other hand.

Example: Honus Honusson (ST 17, DX 14, Striking ST 2, Brawling-15, Sumo Wrestling-16, SM+1, one-handed Trained ST 10 thanks to Sumo Wrestling at DX+2, for 1d-2 CP) grapples a troll (ST 20, DX 13, Wrestling-15, also SM+1; assume a one-handed grapple of 1d CP, -1 DX per 4 CP) by the neck with one hand and rolls a 6. That gives him 4 CP on the troll’s neck, for a -2 ST and -1 DX on the neck and for whole-body actions including skill use; half penalties on the rest of the body, giving the troll a -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions taken only with those limbs.

The reduced DX penalty is due to the troll’s high ST increasing the number of CP required to inflict a penalty to DX (Bigger and Stronger, Technical Grappling, p. 9). The troll grabs Honus right back, with both arms (for +3 per die) and a bite to the torso, and hits with both despite the -1 DX to whole-body actions. Honus fails to defend against either, and suffers 5 CP from the arms and 5 basic damage and thus 5 CP from the bite (which fails to penetrate his DR, and inflicts 0 damage.) The troll now has 10 CP on Honus’s torso, giving Honus -5 ST and -3 DX (his ST 17 means -1 DX for every 3 CP rather than 2).

On his next turn Honus grabs the troll’s left arm with his free hand, and rolls well again, getting a 5 and scoring 3 CP. The troll has suffered a total of 7 CP, giving him a -3 ST and -1 DX on the neck, the grappled arm, and for whole-body actions and skill use. The rest of the troll’s body is at -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions.

Parting Shot

The method presented takes a lot of the calculation out of the issue. You have total control points, you know which limbs or body parts are grappled, and which are not. Most of the usual stuff can be calculated with the whole-body total CP (-1 ST and DX for every 2 CP for a ST 10 target) and then if a player says “but why can’t I kick with my un-grappled leg?” you can assess close combat penalties, apply the “half penalty” rule for un-grappled parts, roll and shout, and move on.

There are ways to simplify things even further, and a proper redesign of the TG system that retains “attack, defend, roll for damage” as the basic mechanic (which it should) would go even farther towards using the same type of systems found in the basic GURPS or DFRPG games for when bad things happen to you. For one, rather than the constantly sliding ST score, one would calculate a Control Maximum as I did in Dungeon Grappling, and as GURPS/DFRPG and many other games do with Hit Points.

As you grapple, if you pass thresholds you get certain conditions applied to you. More than 30% of your control Maximum and all damage rolls are at -1 per die and you’re at a 30% penalty to DX, lather/rinse/repeat at 60% and 85-90% for two more thresholds, and if you exceed the Control Maximum the foe is pinned and helpless (this would mean they’re at 0 ST and -100% to DX, meaning they can’t even roll anyway).

Simpler is better, and while the core of Technical Grappling is very solid, the presentation and flow of the material isn’t what I would be able to do with it today.

Last week I sat down with James Introcaso again, and spoke for more than an hour on grappling, Dungeon Grappling, how to publish a game, and how I approach running a Kickstarter, especially as a newbie.

It was a fun interview, and James is a great interlocutor.

Check it out!

TableTop Babble – 040 – 5e Sci Fi and Kickstarter Advice

I was at GenCon’s 50th Anniversary this past week, and I had the honor of observing the first of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Grappling demo games, and playing in the second. Here are my thoughts, for those that are considering its use:


It’s not as scary as you probably think.


I have 20+ years experience with D&D in general, maybe five or so with Pathfinder, and a month or two with 5e. I have always felt like grappling, in general, has gotten less attention than it deserved in pretty much any system, including all editions of D&D, and have had characters/moments in-game where I’ve found myself grappling (with the rules and/or the enemy) and found them a bit awkward. At the point of the convention, I had not read the Dungeon Grappling book (and still haven’t as of this writing—but I will), though I am quite familiar with its spiritual-ancestor, GURPS Martial Arts – Technical Grappling, so I did have a basic understanding of how it works beforehand.


In my brief exposure to the Dungeon Grappling system, I found it to actually be very easy to understand and smoothly integrated. It uses the normal attack-damage mechanics. “Control” is just damage of a different sort, the accumulation of which inflicts one of a handful of “grappled” conditions. Those conditions are well-defined and sensible, using established mechanics. A character can “attack” to add more to his own control, reduce his enemy’s control, aid allies’ grapples—it’s very intuitive. It works the same against larger or smaller opponents. The book has all the right cheat-sheets in easy-to-find places. I know the book does delve into more detailed grappling situations—and I generally like the more crunchy stuff—but really, the little bit that I observed is all you need to make grappling in D&D a bit more interesting, and it’s simple enough that I couldn’t give anyone a good reason to not use it.

And, I’m told Dungeon Grappling addresses that burning question I’ve always had in D&D and never found and answer for: how far can you throw a halfling? 😛

Note from Gaming Ballistic: Pretty darn far if you’re an Ancient Red Dragon

My 2¢.

I’ll be at GenCon this year, which means all of Gaming Ballistic, LLC will be in attendance. That second one sounds much more impressive.

My fate was sealed when I pledged to the Dungeon Fantasy RPG Kickstarter, and opted into the Saturday 1-5pm session with Sean Punch. Doubly sealed when I decided I’d try and go there under the auspices of the Indie Game Design Network, as both an exhibitor and table fiend.

But . . . that meant I could take the time to do a bit of hands-on demonstration, too.

Grappling Smackdown

From 10am to noon on both Friday and Saturday, I’ll be running a two-hour one-shot session designed to show off how Dungeon Grappling plays at the table.

Right now, each game will be using Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition rules. It isn’t PvP – it will be a normal romp through a limited dungeon, but designed to highlight the grappling rules as modified by Dungeon Grappling.

What does that mean?

It means that a gaggle of kobolds might score enough control points to worry a high level fighter. It means a web spell does control damage. And it means that a Barbarian or Monk got real interesting when optimized around the wrestling skills.

Grappling is Combat

Grappling never really gets the credit it should, because folks usually insist on invoking complicated or non-optimal subsystems to resolve it. Dungeon Grappling is both new and old, in a way that will become instantly apparent when you play.

Come find out what a smooth grappling system can do for a game. Sign up as follows:

Friday 10am to noon

Saturday 10am to noon

Even when GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling was published, there were ways to simplify it, and some of those were included in Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior. The basic premise is, of course, both sound and fun: why treat grappling that differently than other melee attacks, especially in systems (such as D&D) where the level of abstraction is very high already.

On the SJG Forums, a poster threw down a few simplified rules that also tried to bridge the distance between the fairly bland basic grappling rules of GURPS (all successful grapple attacks are a -4 to DX) and the full-on glory (ahem) of Technical Grappling.

They’re pretty cool, and I’ll quote them here (plus a follow-up) before I talk about some other things you can do to tame the system, some of which have matured and already been incorporated into Dungeon Grappling.

Gratuitous plug: both Dungeon Grappling and GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling are available in PDF format at W23, Steve Jackson Games’ web store. There’s no print version of Technical Grappling, but hardcopy versions of Dungeon Grappling are available at my own web store, DriveThruRPG, and CreateSpace.

Continue reading “Less-Technical Grappling (GURPS)”

There have been a few posts recently on the SJG Forums that have brought up Technical Grappling. While my old Blogger site had a nifty index page for all my grappling posts and their titles, called The Grappling Mat, this one doesn’t. At least not yet.

But I did want to lay down the various things I’ve written that might be helpful, so without further ado: Continue reading “Grappling Index for GURPS”

Forum poster Icelander wanted to create a special martial arts style for actually being trained to arrest and detain folks. It’s based on how they do it in Iceland, I think, and is derived from the Passive Restraint style found in the Technical Grappling book. I asked for permission to repost it here on the blog, which he granted. For more discussion, go here.

Arrest Techniques

6 points

This represents the training police officers or other law enforcement personnel receive in arrest techniques, control tactics and the use of force continuum, excluding tactical shooting and the handling of firearms, which will usually be considered its own style. Teamwork is a vital part of this style and the Perk can be chosen as soon as the style has been learned, even if the character does not have 10 points in its skills.

This write-up is skewed toward the arrest techniques taught by the Icelandic police, as that is what I had the best access to, but will describe many typical British, Danish, German, Norwegian and USA training programs as well. Staff as an Optional skill is rare in Europe and the US, but more common in Asia, where the lathi stick and other long staves are common law enforcement tools. Shield is a primary skill for riot police and their batons are often long enough to use Broadsword skill.

Gunnar, my friend who is a serving police officer, member of a riot team and a certified arrest technique instructor, has visited and/or hosted police visitors who have from the above-mentioned countries, observing their training, trained with them and exchanged tips and tactics, in addition to some twelve years of experience here in Iceland.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t trained with anyone who graduated from Quantico, FLETC or other federal training facility, so I can’t be certain this fits for federal law enforcement agents in the US. His last experience with US police was with the Miami-Dade Police Department and this style would fit well enough for them. From what I’ve heard from other cops here who have gone on patrol or trained with US police, it also seems to work for several other Florida deparments, the NYPD and others.

In general, courses in proprietory systems like the SPEAR Fighting System, CQD or others do not mean that the graduate needs to take another Style Familiarity Perk, as most such courses are not long enough for that. SPEAR Fighting System, popular in the UK and allegedly having been taught at the FLETC and Quantico at some point in the 2000s and 2010s, is basically just adding a point in Brawling and maybe Judo, which are already Optional skills precisely because of a tendency to teach these skills in some training programs. The first point in an unarmed skill, particularly Brawling, doesn’t actually require much time to gain, so it’s fairly realistic that a good instructor can teach it in a course that takes less than a week. It’s gaining higher levels of skill that takes a lot of time.

Skills: Diplomacy; Intimidation; Liquid Projector (Sprayer); Shortsword; Wrestling.

Techniques: Arm Lock (Shortsword or Wrestling); Armed Grapple (Shortsword); Change Position (Wrestling); Close Combat (Shortsword); Disarming; Force Posture Change (Wrestling); Handcuffing (Wrestling); Low Fighting; Pass Limb (Wrestling); Retain Weapon (Shortsword); Sweep (Wrestling); Targeted Attack (Liquid Projector (Sprayer) Jet/Face); Targeted Attack (Shortsword Swing/Arm); Targeted Attack (Shortsword Swing/Leg).

Perks: Grip Mastery (Baton); Licence; Off-Hand Weapon Training (Liquid Projector (Sprayer)); Passive Restraint Certification; Teamwork (Arrest Techniques); Technique Mastery (Change Position; Force Posture Change; Handcuffing; Pass Limb).

Optional Traits

Advantages: Combat Reflexes; Legal Enforcement Powers; Police Rank.

Disadvantages: Code of Honour (Police); Sense of Duty (Blue Line).

Skills: Body Language; Brawling; Broadsword; Fast-Draw (Sword); Holdout; Judo; Law (Police); Observation; Professional Skill (Law Enforcement); Search; Shield; Staff; Streetwise; Sumo Wrestling.

Techniques: Break Free (Wrestling); Choke Hold (Shortsword or Wrestling); Elbow Strike (Brawling); Escaping Parry (Wrestling).

Perks: Quick-Swap (Baton); Off-Hand Weapon Training (Shortsword); Shoves and Tackles (Shield or Staff); Style Adaptation (BJJ; Glíma (Belt/Jacket Wrestling)* or MMA); Sure-Footed (Any appropriate for typical duty environment).

*Replace with any culturally relevant style for other countries.